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Healing Hurts: the lived experience of “One Body Broken”

(Pastoral Guidelines for Eucharistic Hospitality,

Diocese of Broken Bay, 1999) 

11th International Conference
Newcastle, NSW, Australia
18-21 August 2005

Presentation by Sr Trish Madigan op at “Sharing our Dream Downunder” 
Australian Interchurch Families International Conference, Newcastle, Australia, 18-22 August 2005 

In September 2004 a distraught great grand-mother who was not a Catholic, wrote to the bishop in this diocese outlining her feelings about her experience of watching several generations of her family grow up in mixed marriages - beginning with her own children and then the products of those marriages, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

For years these marriage situations had been difficult for herself and her husband as parents. She spoke of the pain she had felt in not being able to participate fully in the liturgies that marked such family occasions as baptisms, first communions and weddings. As well as feeling her separation from her family members at these times she also experienced alienation from ritual which ignored and isolated her. As a devout Christian she felt she could not give her own children the support she wanted to in assisting them to bring up their families in a Christian way. Now, with the approaching baptism of her first great grandchild, she wrote in desperation to the bishop outlining her story and asking “Is the cycle about to begin all over again?….just writing this letter brings tears to my eyes…”

Fortunately, six years ago this diocese had produced some guidelines for eucharistic sharing and this woman’s situation clearly fell within the guidelines. The liturgy co-ordinator of the diocese was able to respond to her letter in a pastorally healing way, quoting from Ut Unum Sint, and the diocesan guidelines “One Body Broken” which allow for Eucharistic sharing on special family sacramental occasions and other times of pastoral need.

However, in describing her situation, the woman also asked some important theological questions. She wondered whether for Church leaders “the unity of the Church was more important than the unity of the family”? Is there a gap between what the Church says about ‘family values” and its own practices? She also raised significant pastoral issues. She asked whether the Church, “by its structures and rules was actually preventing parents and grandparents from taking responsibility for the spiritual life of their families”. She questioned whether the Church was giving them adequate support. 

This woman’s letter also raised pertinent questions about how well these new guidelines for Eucharistic hospitality are known among Catholics and among Christians from other churches. Why did it take six years for her to find out, through the initiative of writing to a Catholic bishop, that these diocesan guidelines were in place? What processes are in place to ensure they are better known and used? 

In another example of a mixed marriage which occurred in 1979 the bride and the groom, who was not a Catholic, received the eucharist together on their wedding day. However twenty years went by in the Catholic Church, during which their family grew up, before there was any more significant movement on the issue of eucharistic hospitality. Many such marriages have never been able to fulfill their potential to become interchurch families. What can now be done to assist pastoral awareness of and care for these marriages and families which have somehow, over the years, fallen between the cracks of official church pastoral care?

A small informal survey of some parish priests by one Catholic ecumenical officer discovered that these priests had little information about the number or identity of the people living in mixed or interchurch marriages in their own parish. While they were aware that many of the marriage services they conducted in their parish church involved people of mixed church backgrounds, these couples most often went to live in another parish where they remained unknown - perhaps by choice. 

In the example of the interchurch marriage of 1979, mentioned above, after about ten years of family involvement in a parish the non-Catholic partner was approached by the parish priest to become a Special Minister of the Eucharist. It was devastating, and on another level somewhat amusing, for the couple to have to tell him that the husband was not a Catholic and of course the offer had to be withdrawn. The “invisibility” of interchurch marriages is therefore another serious issue of concern. For if they are going to be able to share their “gift” with the wider church community they will need to receive more recognition, support and affirmation.